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The Role of Preferences in Union Formation

  • Author(s): Arenas Velazquez, Erika
  • Advisor(s): Mare, Robert D
  • et al.

Research on assortative mating over the past three decades shows a tendency of individuals to marry others with similar characteristics. Positive marital sorting increases income inequality and is positively correlated with wage inequality. Even though marriage choice has important implications for inequality and its persistence, little is known about how marital sorting patterns arise. The positive correlation between spouses' characteristics reflects two forces in the marriage market: demand and supply. Investigating mating preferences in the process of union formation is central to understand marriage market dynamics leading to social inequality. This dissertation project focuses on the process of partner choice.

My first chapter investigates educational homogamy by union type (i.e. cohabitation and marriage) in Mexico. I test two hypotheses that explain differences in educational homogamy between marriage and cohabitation: the "winnowing" and the "looser bond" hypotheses. I use data from three waves of the Mexican Family Life Survey (MxFLS) and follow the stock-and-flow framework proposed by Schwartz (2010).

My second chapter investigates the influence of skin color in the process of partner choice. I examine assortative mating patterns by skin color using data from the Mexican Marital Preference Porject pilot (MxMPP), a novel dataset that includes information about skin color of respondents and their spouses. I investigate skin color homogamy using log-linear models to describe the association between partners' skin color.

The third and final chapter of my dissertation examines the underlying preferences that lead to positive assortative mating in terms of education, skin color, and age. I use data from the MxMPP and use information about the choice set of available partners before the first union (i.e. marriage or cohabitation). I start by estimating log-linear models as a point of departure to investigate the patterns of association between partner's characteristics, and then I take advantage of the data on available partners to estimate mating preferences using one-sided logit models. These models go beyond measuring associations of traits between spouse's characteristics from log-linear models for two main reasons. First, parameter estimates associated with preferences for men and women are possible to estimate separately. Second, the model allows examining possible dynamics of vertical and horizontal preferences that lead to positive marital sorting of final matches.

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